Yankees owner Hal Steinbrenner shakes hands with Ron Guidry in the dugout...

Yankees owner Hal Steinbrenner shakes hands with Ron Guidry in the dugout during spring training at George M. Steinbrenner Field in Tampa, Fla., on Thursday. Credit: Newsday/J. Conrad Williams Jr.

TAMPA, Fla. – Hal Steinbrenner, in his words “embarrassed” by last season’s 82-80 record, did not rule out making additions to his 2024 payroll, which already is a touch over $305 million.

“I think we have a championship-caliber team right now, but we haven’t stopped looking to improve,” the Yankees managing general partner said Thursday.

The Yankees, still keeping tabs on two-time Cy Young Award winner Blake Snell – and keeping tabs on other options to bolster their starting pitching depth – are already over Major League Baseball’s highest luxury tax threshold of $297 million.

Each dollar spent above that threshold comes with a 110% tax, meaning if the Yankees signed Snell for, say, $30 million per season, the actual cost would be well above that.

And while Steinbrenner might have been playing a bit of the PR game for an impatient fan base that doesn’t want to hear about taxes and thresholds for a franchise that hasn’t been to a World Series since winning its last one in 2009, he spoke with a resoluteness that has been missing at times over the years.

The kind of deal Steinbrenner laid out for Gerrit Cole before the 2020 season – nine years, $324 million – isn’t coming from the Yankees, but if Snell’s agent, Scott Boras, drops his asking price significantly, nothing can be ruled out (Boras represents Snell and Cole, as well as a slew of other stars in the sport, including Jordan Montgomery, the former Yankee who is still a free agent and helped lead the Rangers to the 2023 World Series title).

“I’m not going to get into [specific] free agents, I’m just going to tell you we continue to look at a lot of different options,” Steinbrenner said. “Given where we are payroll wise, any addition to the club is going to be a costly one, but I’m still willing to consider anything that comes my way. We are not done trying to improve this team.”

Has Steinbrenner spoken recently to Boras?

“I have talked to certain agents recently, yes,” Steinbrenner said, not answering the question directly but nonetheless providing an additional tease for fans.

The owner, who over 10 years ago stated, “I shouldn't have to have a $200 million payroll to win a world championship” and then routinely went over that number, in November said: “You shouldn’t have to have a $300 million payroll to win a world championship.”

“I still agree with that,” he said Thursday. “We didn’t have a whole lot of money come off the payroll. I think we started this off-season right around $245 [million], $250 so it’s not going to take much to get up to 300.”

That number would have soared higher had the Yankees landed the sought-after Japanese star righthander Yoshinobu Yamamoto – they offered a $300 million package – but the pitcher all along wanted to go to the Dodgers, who signed him for $325 million.

Signing Yamamoto still would have ranked as the club’s second-biggest move of the winter. In December Steinbrenner green-lit the deal with the Padres that netted the Yankees star outfielder Juan Soto (as well as reserve outfielder Trent Grisham) in exchange for righthanders Michael King, Jhony Brito, Randy Vásquez and Drew Thorpe as well as catcher Kyle Higashioka.

The deal gutted the Yankees organizational starting pitching depth but Steinbrenner, hesitant over the years to deal young talent, felt he had no choice. Certainly not after a 2023 GM Brian Cashman multiple times called “a disaster” in the off-season, a description endorsed by Steinbrenner.

“He’s a generational player,” Steinbrenner said of Soto. “The opportunity arose where the Padres had certain things that we had, and I don’t know how you could say no if you’re able to do it financially and able and willing to give up what they’re asking for. [It was] not easy for me to give up those guys, but I don’t know how you could say no to get a player like that, even if it is for one year. Hopefully it’s not.”

The 25-year-old Soto, also represented by Boras, is in the final year of his contract and Steinbrenner said the two have not had any discussions regarding an extension. Steinbrenner historically has let contracts play out and not engaged players on extension talks before that happens, but exceptions have been made.

The Yankees made Aaron Judge an $213.5 million offer before his walk year in 2022 and the outfielder turned it down, betting on himself and winning, turning that year’s AL MVP campaign into a nine-year, $360 million contract.

Steinbrenner did not rule out negotiating an extension, but Boras almost always takes his players into free agency and once there Soto is all but certain to blow Judge’s contract out of the water, with industry expectations already being that it could be in the neighborhood of $500 million or more.

For his part, Steinbrenner did not seem to flinch at the prospect of Soto commanding a contract in excess of what his captain received.

“I’m not sure Judge would care if we got Juan Soto for many years to come,” Steinbrenner said. “But the market is what the market is and he’s going to cost what he’s going to cost.”

More Yankees headlines

Newsday LogoSUBSCRIBEUnlimited Digital AccessOnly 25¢for 5 months